Both sides of the teacher's desk

In Avi's latest novel, a student discovers there's no learning like teaching

Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson can't reach the pedals in her family's Model T Ford. While she steers and yells commands from the seat, her little brother hunches on the floor and uses his hands to push the brake and clutch. It's April 1925, and Ida will do just about anything to get to school.

In "The Secret School," acclaimed author Avi offers engaging historical fiction featuring a resourceful and determined heroine. Readers who enjoyed his award-winning novel for middle-grade readers, "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" (1990), will find this new story a wonderful addition to the library.

Ida hopes to become a teacher, if her family can survive without her help on the farm and also pull together enough money to send her to high school in the nearby city.

When her teacher unexpectedly leaves near the end of the school year and the tight-fisted superintendent decides to close the school, Ida has to prove herself in a test much more difficult than any eighth-grade exit exam.

Ida decides she must become the teacher of their one-room schoolhouse. She and her seven classmates attempt to keep this a secret in their small Colorado community.

The first day's challenge of disciplining the class mischiefmaker proves to be Ida's easiest test. She also must learn to balance chores on the farm, grade her students' work, prepare lessons, and find time for her own studies.

Besides, she still wants to be a kid. The day she finally gives in and plays crack-the-whip, she ends up muddy and wet just as the county examiner appears to speak to the teacher.

Sprinkled with amusing moments and full of endearing characters, "The Secret School" is perfect for kids dragging their feet in the morning or eagerly running to the bus stop - or wondering how to drive the family car.

Enicia Fisher is a freelance writer in Elsah, Ill.

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